Colorado Haven: Zapata Ranch


The 103,000-acre Zapata Ranch is a working bison and cattle ranch (there are approximately 2,000 free-roaming wild bison and 300 cattle) that is owned by The Nature Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit “working to create a world where people and nature can thrive.


Managed by Ranchlands, a Colorado-based company that specializes in the management of large-scale ranches, Zapata Ranch is one of several Ranchlands properties that offers true working ranch experiences by integrating guest programs with daily ranch operations which can mean working cattle by horseback or riding across the 50,000-acre wild bison pasture. Ranchlands also partners with conservation-minded owners to implement programs that co-exist alongside cattle operations.

Zapata Ranch also has special themed weeks from time to time as well as horsemanship clinics, Western literature retreats and photography workshops among other options. As a working ranch, you can ride with the 2,000 bison through meadows and grasslands as well as explore Great Sand Dunes National Park on horseback. And that’s the tip of the experiential iceberg. There are also cooking classes, leather workshops, opportunities to bird watch or fly fish, hikes to mountain lakes, and, if you want to really relax, you can get a massage or enjoy a soak in a hot spring.


Located just outside Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, the ranch has just 15 rooms in three buildings amongst a grove of cottonwood trees. The Lodge is the original Zapata homestead dating back to the late 1800s which has been remodeled to add an indoor dining area with a fireplace. There is a deck next to the dining room which is under the cover of mature cottonwood trees and five lodge rooms that have southwestern decor. The Bunkhouse is a log cabin with five private rooms, each with a full bath and private entrances and views of the dunes and mountains beyond. Finally, the Stewart House is a fully-furnished home and is ideal for groups who want a more private experience. Each of the five rooms has a full bath while the house features a fully-equipped kitchen, a living room with fireplace and a pool table as well as a spacious dining area. The view from the living room and private patio provide a front row seat to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Crestone Peak, one of three 14,000-foot peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.


Dining is an integral part to any successful vacation, and Zapata Ranch is proud of what it offers. Breakfasts of eggs made to order, biscuits and gravy, warm pancakes, cereal, and fresh fruit are followed up by homemade lunches eaten on the trail or in the dining room. Dinners, which often include ranch-raised bison and beef as well as other local ingredients, are offered family-style in one of two dining rooms – the outside dining area on calm evenings or the indoor dining room with large windows and a fireplace otherwise.


Photo: Zapata Ranch

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